Obsessed with Quesabirria Tacos? Here’s How to Make Authentic, Jalisco-Style Beef Birria Stew at Home
Quesabirria tacos are popping up everywhere these days, especially on social media. If you haven’t had the immense pleasure of eating one yet, they’re kind of like a cross between a shredded beef taco and a quesadilla. But birria’s roots run much deeper than TikTok—it’s actually a centuries-old Mexican stew that originated in Jalisco. Traditionally, the meat is served solo with rice and a piping-hot cup of consommé, a savory broth that is legitimately mind-blowingly delicious at first sip. We tapped Chef Hector Martinez from Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa to share his authentic beef birria recipe, plus a few tips for cooking and serving it at home.
What Is Birria?
Birria is a savory, mildly spicy Mexican stew made with tons of aromatic spices and chiles. It’s famously served with consommé, a side of seasoned stew broth that’s meant for dipping or drinking (seriously, don’t knock it ’til you try it—it’s straight-up chuggable). Originally made from goat meat, birria can be made with everything from pork to lamb nowadays, though beef is most common stateside, especially now that quesabirria tacos have gone viral here. “The growing love for Mexican food in the United States happened not only because more Americans were curious or had traveled to Mexico,” says Martinez, “but because of the growing population of Mexicans who established food businesses in the U.S.”
Birria's roots go as far back as the 16th century during the Spanish Conquista, when native Mexicans in modern-day Cocula were introduced to various exotic spices and animals that changed the country’s cuisine forever. While pigs and cows were quickly accepted into daily life after being brought over, goats became problematic: They reproduced rapidly and devastated indigenous crops, which in part led to famine. As a result, natives began using goats for meat. Due to its gamey flavor, herbs and spices were added to make it more appetizing. Slowly cooking the goat meat in the ground or a kiln also helped tenderize the meat, making it more palatable and easier to chew—and that’s how birria was born.
Today, birria stew is often served at celebratory events like weddings and quinceañeras. “The birria has a vocation of celebration in ranches, towns and cities,” explains Martinez. “To ‘kill a chivito’ [meaning to kill a goat] is one of the most common ways to celebrate a wedding, christening, birthday or family reunion.” Like pozole, it’s also a popular hangover remedy and can be served at brunch following a large celebration as well. Birria tacos, on the other hand, are a commonplace street food that’s casually eaten for breakfast or lunch.
Other regions have their own take on birria (such as birria estilo Zacatecana, birria de Colima and Tijuana-style birria), but it hails from the altos (or highlands) of Jalisco. Birrierias (aka food carts and restaurants that serve and specialize in the stew) can be found all over the Mexican state, and birria tacos are a super popular street food in cities like Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco.
How to Make Beef Birria
The Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa has an epic culinary experience called Jalisco at Your Table, a seven-course tasting menu of regional delicacies with a modern twist. Of course, slow-cooked short rib birria tacos are the star. (Read on for their Jalisco-style birria recipe, which makes eight generous servings.)
Feel free to put your own spin on the recipe too. “Some use beer or pulque [an alcoholic drink made from maguey] instead of vinegar. Some use cane, pineapple or apple vinegar. Each of these ingredients bring a particular flavor to birria,” says Martinez. The most important ingredient, though, is the chiles.
If you can't find the specific peppers that the recipe calls for, Martinez encourages you to experiment and substitute with ones you can find. “I wouldn't dare to give my opinion without first having experimented with other chile peppers, since each has a different flavor that could certainly change the taste of birria,” he explains. “But at no time do I close myself to the possibility of [substituting], because it's through experimentation that more recipes that come to enrich our gastronomy arise.”
For the birria:
- 5 guajillo chiles
- 5 ancho chiles
- 6 cascabel chiles
- 2 morita chiles
- 30 milliliters (about 1 ounce) of oil
- Water, as needed
- 10 whole allspice berries
- 4 whole cloves
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon thyme
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 7 garlic cloves, roasted
- 1 diced onion, roasted
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 5 centimeters long)
- Salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) boneless beef shank
- 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) beef short rib
- Chopped cilantro, onion, oregano, lime and corn tortillas, to serve
For the consommé:
- 8 tomatoes, roasted and peeled
- 5 cups birria broth
- 4 cups water
- Ground marjoram, to taste
Step 1: Remove the veins and seeds from the guajillo, ancho and cascabel chiles (the morita chiles don’t need them removed). In a hot frying pan, brown the morita chiles in cooking oil, stirring them with a spoon until they get puffy. Add the other chiles and continue stirring until they brown (be sure not to burn them, since they could make the whole dish bitter).
Step 2: Once the chiles have browned, add a cup and a half of water to the pan and let them simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
Step 3: Blend the allspice, cloves, cumin, marjoram, thyme, ground ginger, garlic, onion, bay leaves and cinnamon in a blender or food processor, then add the salt and apple cider vinegar. Once combined, add the chiles, the water in which the chiles were cooked and two more cups of water and blend thoroughly (it’ll take a few batches, depending on the size of your blender). Then, pour the marinade through a strainer and reserve.
Step 4: Season the meat with salt, place it in a large stew pot, pour in the marinade and let the meat marinate for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Then, remove the pot from the fridge and bring it to a boil over medium heat until the meat is very soft, about 1½ to 2 hours. Shred and reserve the meat.
Step 5: To make the consommé, blend the roasted tomatoes with 1 cup of birria broth. Place the blended mixture in a pot, then add 1 more liter (or about 4 cups) of birria broth and 1 liter of water with a little ground marjoram. Add salt to taste and boil for 30 minutes over high heat.
Step 6: Serve the consommé and the meat together with chopped cilantro, chopped onion, oregano, lime and corn tortillas as desired.
Ways to Serve Beef Birria
Birria stew is best served over white rice with chopped white onions, lime wedges and cilantro. And no judgment, but you’re doing it wrong if you don’t pour yourself a cup of consommé to sip on the side (we always add raw onions and a spritz of lime to it, too). Martinez also loves serving birria with fresh corn tortillas, refried beans, spicy salsa and a cold beer on the side.
Odds are quesabirria tacos have made their way to your TikTok feed by now, so if you’d rather use the birria as a taco filling than a main, it’ll be just as delicious (and ten times cheesier). The key is cooking the corn tortillas in the birria’s fat (it’ll float on top of the stew once it starts to cool, so you’ll be able to skim it off) to get them flavorful and crisp. Once they’re hot, top each tortilla with Monterey Jack cheese, Oaxaca cheese or queso panela, add the shredded, consommé-soaked birria meat and fold. Once the tacos are crisp and the cheese is melted, add your fixings and pour a cup of consommé to dunk them into—they’re ready to devour.